Yoshiko Uchida was the daughter of Japanese immigrants Takashi and Iku Uchida. Her father came to the United States from Japan in 1903 and worked for the San Francisco offices of Mitsui and Company. Yoshiko and her sister Keiko were both nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, born in the United States.
Yoshiko Uchida graduated early from high school and enrolled at University of California, Berkeley at sixteen. The Uchidas were living in Berkeley, California and Yoshiko was in her senior year at U.C. Berkeley when the Japanese attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all Japanese Americans on the west coast to be rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps. Thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans, regardless of their U.S. citizenship, lost their homes, property, jobs, civil liberties and human dignity.
The Uchidas were not spared. Takashi was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and he and his family, including Yoshiko, were interned for three years, first at Tanforan Racetrack in California and then in Topaz, Utah. In the camps, Yoshiko taught school and had the chance to view not only the injustices which the Americans were perpetrating, but the varying reactions of Japanese Americans towards their ill-treatment.
In 1943 Uchida was accepted to graduate school at Smith College in Massachusetts and allowed to leave the camp, but her years there left a deep impression. Her 1971 novel Journey to Topaz is fiction but closely follows her own experiences, and many of her other books deal with issues of ethnicity, citizenship, identity, and cross-cultural relationships.
Over the course of her career Uchida published more than thirty books, including nonfiction for adults and fiction for children and teenagers. She died in 1992.
Uchida became widely known for her 1982 autobiography Desert Exile, one of several important autobiographical works by Japanese Americans who were interned that portray internment as a pivotal moment in the formation of the author's personal and cultural identities.
She is also known for her children's novels, having been praised as "almost single-handedly creating a body of Japanese American literature for children, where none existed before." . In addition to Journey to Topaz, many of her other novels including Picture Bride, A Jar of Dreams and The Bracelet deal with Japanese American impressions of major historical events including World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, and the racism endured by Japanese Americans during these years.
"I try to stress the positive aspects of life that I want children to value and cherish. I hope they can be caring human beings who don't think in terms of labels--foreigners or Asians or whatever--but think of people as human beings. If that comes across, then I've accomplished my purpose."